It’s hard to believe that just two weeks ago South Carolina was suffering from a drought, and that farmers were worried about produce withering in the fields. Now, after three days of historically unprecedented rain (practically biblical), the fields are lakes, and much of the fall crop will probably be lost.
This article – by Tim Smith with the Greenville News – reports on the extent of the produce damage, which Hugh Weathers, South Carolina’s Secretary of Agriculture, estimates to be $300 million.
It’s easy to see this South Carolina situation as symbolic for other national (and worldly) events of a similar magnitude.
Single weather episodes are not “caused” by climate change, as the following two articles note. Weather and climate are complicated processes about which we can, at best, make statements that are statistically accurate. This article, from Time, explores the implications of last week’s deluge in that light, and this article, from The Washington Post, presents the science in greater depth. The takeaway is that warmer oceans and shifting currents create circumstances that are more likely to produce extreme weather, including more violent storms and heavier rainfall – exactly what was being experienced in South Carolina.
Sea level rise is another matter. It is indisputably caused by warmer oceans, due to thermal expansion and melting ice. Charleston Harbor, for example, has risen about a foot over the past century. If humanity responds quickly and comprehensively – sea level may rise two more feet over the coming century – and we may successfully prepare for irreversible changes by making intelligent public investments in infrastructure, like roads, rail, and drainage.
Climate planning and preparation is exactly what Beaufort is discussing, as this article from the Island packet by Stephen Fastenau reports. Coastal towns and cities across the US should follow Beaufort’s lead by engaging in this important analysis.
The opposite of intelligent planning – for example – is the proposal to extend I-526 to rural John’s Island, as John Burbage clearly explains in this article. It was published before the flood, but its theme could not be more applicable to this post-diluvian world, where hundreds of bridges, dams and roads have been destroyed with damages almost certainly in the billions. Spending 3/4 of a billion dollars on this foolish boondoggle looks even more ridiculous than it did before the article was written. As symbolic to our nation’s political system, every single mayoral candidate in Charleston has, zombie-like, endorsed the foolish expenditure.
Political decisions like this happen all the time in our nation. One can only hope new circumstances will deliver a needed dose of rationality and backbone to whoever holds future public offices.